The Hub: Short fiction from CW&P

Mrs. Meddings

by Gaye Wignall

Isa lived in a bachelor over a laundromat on St. Clair Avenue West in Toronto. The dingy yellow walls did not support one painting. Small cracks emerged from the baseboards and travelled up the walls in spider-like fashion until they were halted by a light switch or cupboard. The room was sparsely furnished. Isa’s single bed, covered over by one gray woollen blanket, was on the right. On the left, was a rickety, round chrome table, covered with a plastic tablecloth. On top, a white glass vase sat, containing an artificial, faded red rose. The kitchen, ten steps away to the south, consisted of a hotplate, rusted old sink and a tiny fridge, which complained every so often with a moaning sound.  At the other end of the room, opposite the kitchen, was the bathroom, minus the bath. The shower was temperamental as the water was either too hot or too cold.

Isa, a widow of four years, was awakened by the sound of a streetcar, screeching in its effort to keep on track, steel wheels grinding against steel tracks. Isa’s rheumatism stiffened her aching joints, so she failed on her first attempt to rise from the iron bed. Her hands groped the floor for her cane and on the second try, with the help of her cane, she lifted her withered body off the bed. She straightened her cotton night gown and hobbled over to the small window facing St. Clair. Large fluffy flakes were falling from the gray sky. She dreaded the winter. With all the drafts in her place, she found it impossible to warm up in the cold winter months. She opened her fridge and peered inside. There were a few slices of stale bread, but that was all, and no peanut butter in the cupboard. A cup of tea would warm her she thought, so she put on the kettle and limped over to her closet.

She removed the step stool from the closet, stood on it, and reached for a box on the top shelf. The mahogany box was a gift from her father, and so was his gold pocket watch, which the box contained.  She knew the filigree work on the front cover of the watch was exceptional. She remembered her father fondly, as always looking dapper in his navy-blue business suit, adorned by the gold chain of his pocket watch. She couldn’t recall a day that he didn’t carry it with him. This was her prized possession and the only one of value that she owned. Things had changed since her husband of sixty years had died and left her on her own.

Coddling the watch in her right hand, she stepped off the step stool, shuffled over to the table and carefully placed the watch on the tablecloth. She turned around slowly and retraced her steps back to the closet. She picked out her plain blue house dress, and heavy, knee-high stockings to wear. She heard the kettle whistling in the kitchen and tottered over to fix herself a cup of tea. The teacup was covered in tiny blue forget-me-knots and was a gift from a neighbour. Wrapping both hands around the teacup, she took a sip, hoping the warmth would seep through to her soul. 

Time was marching on and there were errands to be done. Begrudgingly, she grabbed the old bundle buggy from the corner, threw on her warn coat and boots while carefully placing the pocket watch in her pocket. The old wooden door squeaked when she opened it and she was painfully aware of the smell of garlic and onion in the hallway. One step at a time, she descended the lopsided staircase to the street, where people were hustling and bustling about.

“Mrs. Meddings. Oh, Mrs. Meddings.”

Her eyes scanned the busy street in the direction of the voice. There, approaching her from six feet away was her landlord Mr. Jones in his racoon coat and black fedora.

“Mr. Jones, how is you today? How is the missus?”

“I’m wonderful and the family is too. How are you?

“Me knees is botherin’ me. It’s the weather.”

“Well, what brings you out on such a dreary, cold day?”

“Few errands to run, sir,” said Isa, trying to hide her shaking limbs from his sight.

“Take care, now. Remember rent is due tomorrow,” he said as he tipped his fedora and walked briskly past her.

She hobbled down the street, pulling her squeaky bundle buggy through the slush. Upon reaching Vaughan Road, she turned the corner and headed south against the wind. Labouriously, she hobbled from side to side and when she reached the intersection of Vaughan Road and Hocken Avenue, she tottered inside the shop.

“Good day, dear,” said a tall, middle-aged volunteer, wearing a green cashmere sweater, and charcoal, woollen slacks, accented by emerald studs. “We have some goodies for you today. Fresh oranges and apples. Some pears too. People have been very generous. We’re so thankful they’ve spared some of their hard-earned money to support the Food Bank.”

The woman set one of the cardboard boxes on the counter and opened it up. Isa peered inside and smiled, revealing her chipped left incisor. Her eyes widened when she saw several loaves of Wonder bread, Primo spaghetti, Heinz tomato sauce, Jiffy peanut butter, Captain Crunch cereal and the apples, oranges and pears.

“I ain’t had a pear for months,” said Isa as she took her left hand and covertly wiped a tear from her eye. “God bless you.”

Folks, I’m sure you will agree with me that this old woman has every right to live a decent life and not go to bed hungry. She worked hard during her formative years and was left destitute by her dying husband. A society has an obligation to help her when she is in need. Would you want your grandmother, mother or sister to suffer so in their old age?

Isa wheeled her buggy out the door and shuffled up Vaughan Avenue towards St. Clair. She had one more stop before heading home. Growling sounds came from her stomach as she proceeded towards the illuminated sign.  When she reached her destination, she hesitated.

Seeing her standing outside the store, a stout, balding man walked to the glass door and opened it.

“Can I help you?” asked the salesman.

Isa stepped over the threshold and stopped to survey the packed store. She brushed her wire-rimmed glasses against her coat to clear the fog and replaced them back on her nose. She saw clocks and musical instruments vying for wall space; pearl necklaces, diamond earrings, sapphire bracelets and topaz broaches twinkling in their long glass cases; and cameras of all sorts huddling together in one corner of the store. An uneasy feeling crept up her spine. She wanted to run but stood there frozen.

“Do you have something to show me? I don’t have all day,” he snapped.

From her pocket, she carefully removed her father’s pocket watch.

She hesitated before she asked, “How much? It’s pure gold, and it works.”

The salesman laid a blue, velvet cloth on the glass top and placed the watch on it. He reached for a magnifying glass and inspected the filigree first. Upon unlatching it, the cover sprang open to reveal the words “All my love, Jean.” He clicked it shut.

“Sixty is all it’s worth. Take it or leave it.”

After a few minutes, Isa left the pawn shop that day to face the cold, blustery wind on her cheeks. Slowly, she hobbled up the street towards home, pulling the old bundle buggy behind her.

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Gaye Wignall is a first-year student in the Honours Bachelor of Creative Writing and Publishing program at Sheridan College. She has a previous Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Toronto.